Can Internet Oligarchs Tilt the Playing Field to the Left?

In January 2005, I participated in a conference at Harvard’s Kennedy School on new media. A number of seminal internet figures were there–the founder of Wikipedia, a guy who was regarded as the original blogger, and others, along with some academics. The only “old media” person I recall being there was Jill Abramson of the New York Times, who seemed depressed.

At one point, another participant who was also a conservative took me aside and expressed concern about the fact that the infrastructure of the internet was controlled by leftists. Google, Wikipedia–I don’t remember who else he had in mind; Facebook and Twitter were still in the future at that point. He was convinced that the Left would use its control over central internet resources to try to control political discourse. I recognized the danger but didn’t know what we could do about it. In any event, the day that guy predicted is now at hand.

One could multiply examples endlessly, but here are a few:

* Facebook helped the Obama campaign in 2012, according to Obama For America’s media director, because “they were on our side.” They still are.

* Dennis Prager is suing YouTube (Google) for restricting or demonetizing more than 50 Prager University videos on the ground that are “inappropriate” for younger audiences. This is absurd; Prager University videos are among the highest-quality content on the web.

* The CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, labeled a “great read” an article that calls for the utter destruction of conservatism. Meanwhile, Twitter has been credibly accused of countless instances of discrimination against conservatives, most recently “shadow banning” Ted Cruz, which means making his tweets invisible to most of his followers.

* Two African-American sisters from North Carolina who call themselves Diamond and Silk and are enthusiastic supporters of President Trump have been carrying on a lengthy battle with Facebook. They say that Facebook has systematically discriminated against them, demonetizing their content and ultimately making their posts mostly invisible:

Finally after several emails, chats, phone calls, appeals, beating around the bush, lies, and giving us the run around, Facebook gave us another bogus reason why Millions of people who have liked and/or followed our page no longer receive notification and why our page, post and video reach was reduced by a very large percentage. Here is the reply from Facebook. Thu, Apr 5, 2018 at 3:40 PM: “The Policy team has came to the conclusion that your content and your brand has been determined unsafe to the community.”

* Facebook has undertaken to stop “the spread of false news” and “false narratives” (!) in time for the midterm elections. They are doing this by empowering “fact checkers” who are almost monolithically liberal.

One could go on and on, but I don’t think there is any serious doubt that much of the infrastructure of the internet is controlled by leftists, and they are putting their thumbs on the scale in favor of left-wing policies and candidates. The question is, what to do about it?

Conservatives could boycott Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but that would bring about exactly the result that liberals want–an absence of conservative voices from the most-used modes of communication. Conservatives could try to start their own competing services, but network effects guarantee that such efforts would by difficult at best, and probably impossible. (Although Paul, in a different context, suggests something of the sort here.)

Some advocate antitrust action against Google, Facebook, and so on. But on what grounds? Monopolization, presumably, but the trouble with these companies is not that they have used improper means to gain or perpetuate market dominance, but rather that they are misusing their market dominance to further their collateral political goals. I am not aware that courts have recognized such a legal theory, and it is not obvious to me how it would fit within the framework of the Sherman Act or other antitrust statutes. But Glenn Reynolds, for one, has advocated “breaking up companies like Facebook and Google.”

Google, Twitter and Facebook are all publicly-traded companies, which could make them vulnerable to SEC investigation. Again, though, I don’t know exactly what form that would take. Perhaps the FEC could look into whether these companies’ actions amount to illegal contributions to the Democratic Party and its candidates. At a minimum, activist shareholders could make life more difficult for corporate managements who, by driving away conservatives, are probably making their companies less profitable.

In the meantime, tedious though the task is, it makes sense to continue exposing the leftward bias of the internet’s key players.